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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 ‘Paper and finishing’ Category

Commercial Printing: Tree-Free Synthetic Paper

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

A number of years ago I saw a printed advertisement suspended from the bottom of a fish tank. I thought it was pretty impressive, since I would have expected printed paper left underwater to have become unreadable at best or at worst to have assumed the consistency of wet paste. I made a mental note.

Later on, I learned about synthetic papers such as Yupo. There are others as well.

Beyond its curiosity effect, I thought that presenting a little information on this paper might be useful to you, since there are a number of projects that might benefit from a custom printing paper that doesn’t come apart when wet and that’s almost impossible to tear.

What Is Synthetic Paper?

Basically, synthetic paper is a tree-free commercial printing sheet that is based on petroleum rather than wood pulp. You could say it’s a plastic film. Then again, it looks just like an opaque white printing sheet, and you can not only print on it but also successfully score, fold, emboss, or perform most other post-press operations on it.

Benefits of Synthetic Paper

  1. There are environmental benefits. First off, it’s tree-free. This appeals to environmentalists. And it’s 100 percent recyclable as well.
  2. It’s waterproof (and even submersible).
  3. It’s extremely durable and scuff resistant.
  4. As noted above, it can be printed and finished just like wood pulp or cotton fiber paper.

When Would You Use Synthetic Paper?

Here are a few scenarios that would be perfect for synthetic custom printing paper:

  1. Let’s say you need to create a map that hikers will use in the rainforests of Peru. The maps will need to be crisply printed and durable, they will need to be folded in map-fold sequence, and they will need to withstand heavy use in torrential rain. For this, synthetic paper would be ideal.
  2. Or let’s say you need to create labels for wine bottles that will go from the refrigerator to the dinner table in a restaurant. Water condensation due to extreme temperature changes might make a waterproof paper an attractive choice for custom label printing.
  3. Or maybe you want to produce a childproof menu or placemat, something that can be wiped off repeatedly without any degradation in quality. Synthetic paper would be ideal.

The Good News and the Bad News

The Good News

  1. The good news is that this durable, waterproof, tear-resistant, custom printing substrate can be printed via offset lithography, flexography, and inkjet technology.
  2. Since synthetic commercial printing paper is extremely resistant to chemicals and oils, it can be used for chemical labels and such, as well as food labels.
  3. Most synthetic paper includes no toxic materials (no BHA, no lead, and no mercury or chromium). Therefore, it does not release toxic substances when incinerated.

The Bad News

  1. The bad news is that you can’t use synthetic paper in a laser printer due to the high heat. This goes for photocopiers as well, due to the extreme heat required for fusing toner to paper. (Keep in mind, though, that you can use synthetic paper in inkjet equipment, which does not depend on heat for its operation.)
  2. This isn’t really bad news; it’s just a heads-up. Synthetic paper requires specialized ink formulations, attention to the details of using a new substrate when cutting and folding the paper, and consideration of drying time, use of anti-setoff powder, etc. In other words, using synthetic papers demands a learning curve for optimal results by any commercial printing vendor.

Book Printing: Thinner Paper, But Still “In-Spec”

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Oops. The printer called me today and said the paper he had ordered for my client’s hard-cover print book had arrived, but it was slightly thinner than had been requested.

I was concerned at first, but the book printer explained that the caliper of the paper was thinner by only .000235-inch per sheet. From prior experience and study, I knew that this happened from time to time. Products manufactured by paper mills vary slightly from roll to roll. This is normal.

After all, uncoated book paper (which was to be used for the hardback book’s text stock) is an organic substance. It is made on a Fourdrinier machine, which starts with essentially a liquid syrup and ends with a flat (but porous and slightly uneven) paper surface, even after the custom printing stock has been fed through numerous sets of metal rollers.

The gist of this is that I couldn’t just say, “Send it back.” The paper was still “within spec” and perfectly acceptable by commercial printing industry standards.

Would the Client See the Difference?

One would think that a .000235-inch difference from the normal paper thickness of 60# Finch Opaque Text stock would be unnoticeable. And in many ways this is true.

I asked the book printer whether my client would notice a difference in the following characteristics of the custom printing sheet:

  1. Thickness, or bulk of an individual sheet
  2. The overall thickness of the book (it was to be 552 pages in length)
  3. The opacity of the paper

I wanted to make sure my client would not feel a difference when turning pages. I also wanted to ensure that she would not find the bound print book to be thinner overall than expected (since the book is produced yearly, and subscribers might not accept any semblance of cheaper materials).

I also wanted to make sure the book pages would have opacity (or light stopping power) equal to last year’s edition. It would not be acceptable for screens, heavy type, and photos on the front of a page to be visible through the back of a page.

The book printer confirmed that my client would experience no difference.

What Needed to Be Changed?

But there was a caveat. Over the course of the 552 pages, the book would be about 1/8” thinner than expected, and this would throw off the centered artwork on the spine of the dust jacket. The solid ink coverage of a PMS color that would cover the spine and end exactly at the folds (at the front and back of the dust jacket) was no longer accurately positioned in the art file. My client’s graphic designer would need to adjust the dust jacket artwork to compensate.

What About the Foil Stamping Dies?

There was a happy accident. I was immediately concerned about the metal stamping dies that the book printer had already sent out to be created. The front cover, back cover, and spine of the cloth-bound book included the book title and other text in gold foil on the green fabric. As with the dust cover, this type had to land precisely in the center of the spine as well as the front and back covers. I feared that the metal dies would need to be remade.

Fortunately I was wrong. Since the artwork for the spine did not extend to the folds (as the dust cover artwork did), the metal dies could be positioned to compensate. The front cover, back cover, and spine art (which consisted only of words and line art) could be moved separately from one another to account for the difference in the overall book thickness. In contrast, the art for the dust jacket was all of one piece and could not be separated. And the art for the spine extended to the edge of the spine (to the folds) and therefore would be unforgiving (without adjustment, the solid color would have wrapped onto the front or back cover).

So I learned something, the designer adjusted the artwork for the dust jacket, and everyone was happy that the cover foil stamping dies would be just fine and didn’t need to be remade.

Commercial Printing: The Art of Paper Specification

Monday, February 4th, 2013

If the following specification from a printing estimate strikes fear into your heart, we need to talk:

“Stock: Body: Printer will furnish a 60# Finch Opaque, 426 ppi., pricing as of 4\11\11.”

It’s really just a printer’s short-hand way of expressing in a minimal number of words a vast amount of paper information. Think of it as poetry, or a mathematical formula.

Let’s Break It Down

Stock is the paper used for your custom printing job, whether the job is a brochure or a print book. However, the word “body” is another way of saying text, so this particular wording from an actual commercial printing bid I recently received pertains to a print book. Another line item within the estimate might refer to “stock: cover” or “stock: dust jacket.”

The words “printer will furnish” are important because they refer to the source of the raw materials for the custom printing job. It is not a given that the printer will furnish the paper. You can, in fact, supply your own paper, if you can get a better deal and ensure that the paper is delivered on time, is in good shape and runnable, and is the correct choice for the job. Personally I’d leave this to the printer whenever possible.

Paper Brand, Weight, and Opacity

The words “60# Finch Opaque” indicate a few things, including the manufacturer of the paper, its weight, and its light-stopping ability.

First of all, the weight. This is the weight of 500 sheets cut to the basic size, which for text paper is 25” x 38” and for cover stock is 20” x 26”. Again, it’s important to look for words like “body” or “text” here, because if you’re expecting a thin text paper and your job delivers on cover stock, you’ll be disappointed. Or, if you’re expecting a cover-weight sheet and the job delivers on a text-weight paper, you’ll be disappointed. (Therefore, particularly when the numbers match, such as 80# text and 80# cover, or 100# text and 100# cover, make sure the estimate reflects your expectations.)

Finch Opaque is just one product made by Finch Paper, LLC. Finch makes roll stock, cut sheets, opaque stock, digital and offset paper, to name a few. Finch also makes different colors of paper, including various shades of white plus vanilla.

It’s always smart to get samples. Online descriptions are helpful, but nothing improves your choice of paper like a sample book, a good light, and your eyes. Better yet, look at the samples under different lighting conditions: sunlight, incandescent light, and fluorescent light. Look at printed and unprinted sheets. If you want to be really prudent, have a few people look at the sheets and give you their opinions. Keep in mind that people see color differently, and men and women in particular see color differently.

“Opaque” paper stock is a good choice if you’re printed product will include heavy ink coverage or lots of photos. Opaque paper has higher light-stopping power than offset stock. (That is, it’s harder to see the ink on one side of the press sheet when you’re looking at the other side of the press sheet.) Therefore, Finch Offset and Finch Opaque are not the same. But your commercial printing vendor’s estimate might omit these specific words, so to be safe, ask about opaque vs. offset. (For coated sheets, you would just ask your printer if a particular press sheet has adequate opacity for the job you’re producing. You usually wouldn’t see the word “opaque” in a description of a coated press sheet.)

Paper Thickness, or Caliper

The notation 426 ppi refers to the number of pages in an inch. If you specified a paper with a ppi of 350, the press sheets would be thicker than a paper with a ppi of 426 (i.e., fewer sheets needed to create a stack of paper one inch tall). When you’re choosing a particular paper with a particular ppi (referred to as a paper with a particular “caliper”), think about the thickness of the final product. A 426-page book would be one inch thick. A print book produced on a thinner paper might appear cheap and shoddy to customers who had bought last year’s copy printed on a thicker stock.

The final few words of the paper specification, “Pricing as of 4\11\11,” tell you something about the nature of custom printing. Specifically, it is a manufacturing process. Materials consumed in the production of a job will be factored into the estimate at the price at which they were purchased. That is, if you get an estimate from a printer in March, and paper prices go up in June, the book you print in July may cost more. This is a legitimate practice. In many cases, depending on the stock you want—and your willingness to have your commercial printing supplier substitute paper—your printer may already have an adequate supply on the pressroom floor. To be sure, you might want to ask for a “house sheet.” If a printer uses a large volume of a particular printing stock, he can often get better pricing than he can get for a specialty sheet.

The Best Way to Save Money on Printing Paper

To be safe, the more often you can specify paper by qualities rather than by name brand (i.e., “a #1 bright white opaque text sheet” rather than “Finch Opaque,” the more often your printer will be able to shop around for a good price. For example, Finch, Cougar, Husky, and Lynx might be equally good paper choices. As an alternative, you can request a particular press sheet and then tell your printer that you would be open to suggestions (or substitutions).

Commercial Printing: Case Study in Negotiating Skills

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

I had a rather intense discussion today with a custom printing vendor who had offered to trim a step-down brochure printing job by hand to save my client the cost of the die, but who was now having trouble due to the complexity of the job.

The Specifications for the Job

The custom printing job is a booklet with thumb tabs. The front and back cover extend a full 6” x 9” to allow for tab closure to meet postal regulations. Starting with the first page spread, and proceeding throughout the 16-page booklet, each right-hand page has a diagonal cut-out thumb tab. And each cut-out is slightly less deep (by about 3/4”) than the following cut-out. To complicate matters, there are diagonal, printed color bars, one on each right-hand page thumb tab. Turning the pages of the book reveals the color bars one at a time.

The Custom Printing Supplier’s Dilemma

This is an exceptionally difficult job to trim, particularly by hand, particularly without a die. So when the printer came back to me and asked to raise the price by almost $500.00, I sympathized with him. After all, with a press run of 2,500 and all these diagonal cuts on each press sheet, trimming the job would be torture.

That said, I knew the client would not go for the additional cost for the following reasons:

  1. The printer had been explicit about not needing a die and instead trimming the step-down pages by hand.
  2. Although the designer had changed the specifications after the initial bid by increasing the number of pages that would need to be trimmed, the designer had provided a PDF of the job and the printer had increased the cost to cover additional hand-trimming and stitching. The client had accepted the charge as necessary and reasonable. At this time, there might have been an opportunity for the printer to acknowledge the increased complexity of the job and request the cost of a die. But he did not do this.
  3. The client had found it challenging to acquire additional funding to meet the increased cost. This involved a bit of fundraising. Alternatives such as design changes and a reduced press run were even considered before the client finally committed to the total cost and specifications.
  4. The commercial printing vendor’s request for additional funds came at the color proof stage, after the job was already under way.

My Response to the Printer

I made it clear that I understood the printer’s dilemma. I even reminded him of my initial concern with foregoing the die and trimming by hand. I noted that I did, however, trust his skill completely based on prior complex jobs, so I had deferred to his professional assessment.

I told the printer that I could not “go back to the well” under the circumstances. I asked what he could do.

He thought for a moment. He then said that his initial plan to hand-stitch the books might not be necessary. He had reviewed the job and could do this portion of the work on his finishing equipment rather than by hand. He thought this savings would cover the additional cost of the die for the step-down tabs. The printer said he understood why I could not ask the client for more money at this point. He was very reasonable, in addition to being creative in finding a solution that would not add to the cost of the commercial printing job.

Plans for Future Commercial Printing Jobs

Each of us—the printer and I–saw the other’s dilemma, and we found a solution that would meet each of our needs. This supplier’s integrity and willingness to compromise makes me want to bring many more jobs to his commercial printing shop.

After we had resolved this difficulty, we worked out a plan to identify potential problems that might increase the cost of similarly complex jobs in the future.

The printer had reviewed the digital file provided by the graphic designer, but there had been some confusion. I suggested that, in upcoming jobs of this complexity, the designer be asked to provide not only a digital file but also a folding dummy. This would show exactly how the thumb tabs would work and how each page would cover the color bar at the diagonal trim of each successive page. The printer agreed. This would avoid assumptions and clarify any points of confusion. We had a plan for future work.

How You Can Apply This Case Study to Your Print Buying Work

  1. Question everything. If the bid seems to leave out a critical element (such as a die for die cutting), ask the printer to explain. Review the bid several times. Questions may arise, or you may catch errors, on each pass through the estimate.
  2. Understand that the printer may need to adjust pricing when he sees the actual artwork. This is reasonable. However, at this point you can negotiate alternatives and compromises with the printer.
  3. Once the job has actually begun (at the proof stage, for example), it is reasonable to push back if the printer requests more money. Do this forthrightly but respectfully, asking for specific reasons for any cost overruns.

Commercial Printing: Thoughts on a Printed Calendar

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

I have recently been designing a calendar for a client of mine. She is a professional photographer. She takes photos of beautiful flowers. In preparing the files and reviewing digital proofs today, I addressed a number of issues I thought you might find useful in your own design and custom printing work.

Backing Up the Press Sheet

The calendar will have a limited distribution, so the job will be printed on an Indigo digital press. The commercial printing vendor sent my client a final PDF for approval prior to proceeding, and my client came back to me with an interesting question. All of the calendar pages were upright, and all of the floral images were upside down. Why?

I knew this was a press imposition issue, but I didn’t immediately realize the obvious. When you look at a calendar that has been spiral bound, with a calendar page on the bottom and a photograph on the top, the photograph must be upside down on the press sheet. Otherwise it will be upside down on the final printed calendar.

Try it yourself. Check out a commercial, spiral bound calendar with the binding running horizontally between the upper photograph and the calendar grid. All photographic images will have been printed upside down on the back of the calendar pages.

Another Example: A Fold-Over Card

Here’s another example of how the obvious can trip you up. Imagine a horizontal fold-over card with an image on the front and text (perhaps a credit for the photo) on the back. When you lay out this card in InDesign, you will create a flat, two-page spread (one page above the other) for the inside of the card and another two-page spread for the outside of the card. (For instance, for a 5” x 7” card you would create a template 7” wide and 10” tall. This would then fold over horizontally to create the finished 5” x 7” card.)

The inside of the card might have a quotation on the bottom panel, and the top panel might be blank. There’s nothing complicated in that.

However, the outside of the card will have the photograph upright, taking up the bottom half of the 7” x 10” two-page panel (one page over the other to create the back and front of the card). The key to not making a bad mistake here is to flip over the photo credit (and whatever else goes on the back of the card) in InDesign and position it on the top half of this 7” x 10” panel.


Once the commercial printing supplier has printed, trimmed, and folded the card, all type will appear in the proper orientation—just like my client’s calendar pages. But unless you do this counter-intuitive step of flipping the type over, the finished, folded card will have upside down type on the back of the card.

What Does This Really Mean to You?

It means you have to be alert and think of the final, printed item as an object, not just a design. If you take a little time to make a physical mock up of a job like a calendar or fold-over card, you can see how the final, printed piece will operate in physical space. On the computer, something may make perfect sense but be entirely wrong.

One More Useful Step

My client found four typos in the proof (not photo coloration problems at this point, just typographic errors). Granted, this was the best time to find them, prior to the custom printing work. However, since only four text pages and no photo pages were involved, I elected to only distill PDF pages of the four affected pages to resend to the commercial printing vendor. I started to distill the entire document as a new, press-ready PDF, but I stopped short and changed my mind.

Here’s why.

  1. My client had already approved all other pages of a hard-copy proof provided by the custom printing supplier. The printer had already imposed the job for the press. Starting over with a complete file would have only added time and trouble to the process (and the potential for error).
  2. Since my client had approved (in writing) all other pages, matching these pages on press was now the printer’s responsibility. At this point, my client was only responsible for the four new type-only pages. Again, there was less room for error.

(After all, a new file may have inadvertently included new errors in one or more of the photo pages or other calendar pages. Accidents happen. We knew for sure that the printer’s copies of all other pages were absolutely correct, so it was prudent to only submit the four new pages.)

So when you get to this final proofing opportunity, my personal opinion is that it’s best to only provide individual press-ready pages in PDF format. Just a thought.

Book Printing: Sometimes Moving Text 1/8” Can Save $1,300 or More

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

In prior blogs I have always been a great proponent of making your custom printing vendor an ally and partner. Develop trust and a two-way relationship. It will benefit you both.

This week in my print brokering work I received a suggestion from a commercial printing supplier to whom I had bid out a 11,000-copy perfect-bound book. With a 6” x 9” format and 312 pages, the job involved a lot of custom printing paper, and therein lies the key to the savings.

The Commercial Printing Proposal

The book printer told me that if my client moved the position of type in the book 1/8” to adjust the face and gutter margins, my client could save approximately $1,300.00. He was proactive because he wanted the job. I’m fine with that, since he provided a way my client could save a considerable amount of money. I wanted to give him the work since he had delivered stellar print jobs on a number of prior occasions.

Specifically, the textbook had a face margin of 1/4” and a gutter margin of slightly more than 1/2”. The book printer told me that my client should move the column of text toward the gutter 1/8” on each of the facing pages, leaving a 3/8” gutter margin and a 3/8” face (outside) margin. He could do this automatically. My client would not need to adjust the art files she had produced.

This small change would allow the book printer to use a smaller press sheet for the job. Instead of buying a 28” x 40” press sheet on which to lay out and print the signatures of the book, he could use a 25” x 38” sheet. For 10,000 copies this would save approximately $1,300.00, and for 11,000 copies it would save approximately $1,500.00.

The Details of the Savings

The custom printing supplier explained to me that the goal would be to position the pages of the book signature on the press sheet to allow for an 1/8” grind off for the spine. By grinding the spine edge of the stacked signatures in a perfect-bound book, the printer can give a little more surface area into which the binding glue can seep, holding the print book together better as the reader opens and closes the book repeatedly over the years.

In short, moving the column of type in the print book slightly toward the gutter allows the printer to lay out the pages of a signature on a press sheet more efficiently, leaving enough room for this “grind-off” while placing the same number of book pages on a smaller sized press sheet. This is efficient planning.

What We Can Learn from This

  1. The greater the level of trust you can develop with your book printer, the more he will perceive you as a partner (and vice versa). Therefore, when he knows you have a particular budget to meet, he can research various ways to save you money. Whether this means suggesting a different paper stock (the same printer suggested Soporset as an alternative to Finch for my client’s textbook, although my client did not like the roughness of its surface and decided to stay with the Finch stock), or adjusting the imposition of the print job to use the paper more efficiently, if you have developed a relationship of trust with your printer, he will make suggestions to help you.
  2. The higher the page count and the longer the press run of your print book, the more paper you will use. This is obvious. What is not as obvious is that a small adjustment that can save a small amount per page can provide a sizable savings over the course of a long press run. The potential savings of $1,300.00 to $1,500.00 that the book printer offered my client was due to the large amount of paper consumed during print production. A shorter book with a smaller press run would not have saved anywhere near as much money with this simple design change.
  3. A small change can make a big difference. My client would not need to change the trim size of the 6” x 9” book at all, just the placement of art on the page (i.e., the print book margins). The moral is that you should always ask the printer if your particular design yields the most efficient use of the press sheet. Remember that each printer will have different equipment (potentially different sized presses that accept different sized press sheets), so the answer may differ from vendor to vendor.


My Client’s Final Decision

People have different motives and different goals. I was surprised to learn that my client wanted the book to match the prior year’s version more than she wanted to save $1,300.00 to $1,500.00.

Actually, I can understand and respect her decision. Even 1/8” might be problematic if the text were to fall too close to the gutter. In this case, my client was concerned that some of the 11,000 readers might be uncomfortable with the smaller gutter margin. For her, quality and consistency with prior years’ versions trumped a price savings. (If you’re selling custom printing, it is important to understand the client’s goals. If you’re designing a print book and buying printing, it’s important to understand your boss’ and your reader’s goals.)

Commercial Printing: Domtar’s Dream Paper Promotion

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

I just received the new paper promotion booklet from Domtar called Dream. It showcases some dramatic printing techniques on Cougar paper. I thought you might find the book interesting.

Overview of Dream

First of all, I’d encourage you to contact Domtar and request this promotional book yourself. You will be included in Domtar’s marketing database and start receiving free print books like Dream on a regular basis. Nothing beats seeing what a paper company can do with good commercial printing paper and creative design. The paper mills put a lot of money into these promotions, and they are great educational tools.

If you get this print book, first page through it for the overall effect, and then jump to the “production notes” section at the back of the book. Almost every paper promotion book includes a section like this, with a thumbnail photo of each page spread and a description of exactly how the paper company achieved the custom printing effects.

Paper Use in the Promotional Book

Reading the production notes, you can see that Domtar printed the cover of Dream on 130# double-thick Cougar cover stock, smooth finish. Double-thick cover is also known as duplex cover stock. It can either be composed of two different stocks laminated (glued) together, or it can have one side printed one color and the other side printed another color. Paper mills can even produce commercial printing paper with different finishes on the two laminated paper stocks (smooth and antique, for instance). Duplex stocks tend to be thicker than usual, from 100# to 160# (the one used for the cover of Dream is 130#).

The inside of the book is printed on 100# Cougar cover, smooth finish. Since the surface texture of both the cover and the text pages are the same, the book has a consistent “feel.” The smooth, uncoated sheet makes the photos on the cover and inside the book appear silky (not as crisp and harsh as photos printed on a gloss press sheet). But the brilliant white of the uncoated Cougar stock gives the ink colors a vibrant look.

Normally, 100# cover stock would be exceptionally thick, but if you compare the double-thick 130# cover paper to the inside text pages, the text pages seem quite a bit thinner in contrast (one of the benefits of duplex cover stock).

If you look closely, you will see that the printer scored all folds. This is a necessary step when working with such thick commercial printing stock.

Samples of Foils and Paper Coatings

The production notes refer to “dot-for-dot” dull varnish. Such a coating would normally seep into the paper fibers of an uncoated sheet like Cougar. Varnishing uncoated stock is a little like putting paint on a sponge. That said, it actually does seal the heavy ink coating (for protection and to avoid scuffing and offsetting). The designer chose “dot-for-dot” varnish rather than flood varnish. This means that only the printed halftone dots of the image were varnished. In contrast, flood gloss or flood dull varnish lays down an even overall coating on both the ink and the unprinted paper.

Other pages in Dream include examples of silver metallic foil and clear foil stamping. The clear foil stamping looks like a gloss UV coating. On the page under the front cover flap, which includes a portion of a face, there is a dramatic contrast between the iris (covered by clear foil) and the rest of the eye and face (produced with only ink on the dull, uncoated Cougar press sheet).

Clear foil is ideal for adding a uniform gloss sheen to a portion of an uncoated stock, since it sits on top of the paper rather than seeping into the paper fibers. The silver metallic foil on the child astronaut page of the Dream book works well, too. Unlike silver ink, the silver metallic foil keeps its full intensity on uncoated stock, and its smoothness contrasts well with the rough tooth of the surrounding uncoated black paper.

Process Inks and Touch Plates

The production notes show where four-color process inks were used and where additional touch plates were added. In one case, the background of a photo in which a man is playing a trumpet has been augmented with fluorescent pink ink added with a touch plate. This extends the color range of the image significantly. Without the touch plate (an additional printing plate on an additional press unit) the 4-color process inks alone could not have achieved such richness of color.

On another page, an image of a skyline at dusk was printed with dense black and fluorescent yellow touch plates. The former accentuates the black (sometimes black ink can look washed out on uncoated commercial printing stock), and the fluorescent yellow ink gives all the lights in the buildings an ethereal glow.

What We Can Learn from Domtar’s Dream Promotion

There’s no better way to learn design and commercial printing techniques than to study the work of the masters. Paper companies put all their skills and financial resources behind these promotions. Their goal is to sell paper, but you can learn a lot from them as well.

In addition, always review the production notes section of a promotional piece. It’s dry reading (a little like reading a cookbook). But you can learn the intricacies of custom printing from a close study of these descriptions.

Magazine Printing: Options for Paper Management

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

In an earlier PIE Blog posting I mentioned that buying paper on the spot market was an option worth considering for magazine printing publishers.

Shortly thereafter, I read an article in Publishing Executive by Steven W. Frye called “Tips for Picking the Best Paper Source” ( I thought you might find the information helpful in purchasing paper for your longer (multiple-page-count, multiple-copy) press runs, so I’m including a synopsis of Mr. Frye’s article.

Here are a selection of paper sources for your magazine printing work, along with a few benefits and pitfalls of each choice. Since there are so many kinds of custom printing paper available (with such variables as opacity, whiteness, brightness, texture, and caliper to consider), it helps to know where to find the experts with the most reliable and up-to-date information on commercial printing paper qualities, paper availability, and pricing trends.

Paper Merchants and Brokers

Both paper merchants and paper brokers represent several paper mills. The main difference between the two is that a paper merchant actually takes delivery and ownership of the paper and then turns around and sells it to customers. In contrast, a broker does not take ownership. He or she just finds the client, determines the client’s needs, finds the paper, negotiates terms, and coordinates delivery.

What this means is that a paper merchant can actually buy paper when prices are low and hold it in inventory, whereas a broker cannot. So you can sometimes get better prices from merchants. Of course, when paper prices drop, the merchant is stuck with excess inventory.

Working with a paper merchant can benefit you in a number of ways. A merchant represents many publishers, so he or she can collect all the paper orders and act as a single, large buyer. He or she will purchase significantly more custom printing paper than an individual publisher, so the volume discounts and payment terms will be much better than an individual small publisher could get directly from the mill.

The Spot Market

I mentioned the spot paper market in an earlier article, noting the potential for buying odd-lot paper at a significant price discount. These papers represent excess inventory or remnants, paper made for other publishers that no longer need it, or lower quality paper that may not be as “runnable” as higher quality stock (not as usable on press without incident). Think of odd lots as comparable to remnants in a fabric store (bits and pieces made but not used). You may find exactly what you need at a deep discount. Or you may not. Given the unpredictability of the spot market, you may want to buy the majority of your stock from your custom printing vendor, the merchant, or the mill, and then get some discounts occasionally through the spot market.

Keep in mind that paper brokers and merchants do not represent the spot market, so you must do a little research on the Internet to find these specialty suppliers.

The Paper Mill

The paper mill makes the paper. They are all about quality and supply, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get a good deal buying from the paper mill. It just means that if you develop a relationship directly with the mill and your paper stock becomes less readily available, you will have an edge in acquiring what you need for your magazine printing work.

However, in contrast to the paper merchant, who represents a number of buyers (and hence becomes one large buyer himself/herself), if you buy from the mill, you are ostensibly just a small buyer, and you don’t get the discounts that come from the economy of scale.

What to Consider

As you can see from the preceding sections, these are the variables you should consider when buying paper:

  1. Accessibility of the paper stock (being absolutely certain the paper will be there when you need it)
  2. Quality of the paper
  3. Price (more expensive at the mill–but you’re certain of getting your stock—and potentially much less expensive on the spot market; however, you can’t always get the quality or the immediate access to a particular paper stock)
  4. Simplicity (it’s easier to have the printer buy the paper, but you may not get as good a deal)
  5. Storage (if you buy the paper–instead of the printer–he may charge you to store it)
  6. Responsibility. If there are problems with the paper, and you supplied it to the printer, you are ultimately responsible for replacing the paper, accepting any printing delays, etc.

More Things to Keep in Mind

  1. The mill provides all buyers with the same price for the same paper (by law). However, if you order a huge amount of paper or pay especially quickly, you can get volume or financial discounts.
  2. Buying paper through a merchant is no more difficult than having your magazine printing vendor order the paper. It is in your paper merchant’s financial interests to make the process simple for you, so all you need to do is specify the format of the job (size, page count, paper stock) and the press run, and the merchant will acquire the paper and deliver it to the printer (or store it, as needed).
  3. Since you are ultimately responsible if you buy your own paper through a merchant or broker, it behooves you to carefully vet the supplier. A merchant’s or broker’s paper buying mistake can cost you a lot of money, whereas a commercial printing supplier’s mistake won’t cost you anything (since he buys the paper).

What Else Can You Get from Your Merchant or Broker in Addition to Paper?

The goal is to get good paper for a good price with no headaches before or during the press run. A merchant or broker can keep you abreast of the paper market trends and prices; manage the purchase, inventory, and storage of paper; resolve disputes (if there are problems with the paper); and coordinate and track paper shipments to minimize inventory and therefore reduce storage costs.

Commercial Printing: Creative Ways to Save Money

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

If you’re really in a pinch and have no budget for your custom printing job, there are still ways to save money. This blog will primarily address smaller jobs, such as materials for a wedding or a small business, if you have one. I’ll also throw in a few ideas for big commercial printing jobs.

Saving Money on Paper

I had a print brokering client many years ago who needed business cards and hang-tags for items she planned to sell at a craft fair. Each business card or hang-tag included her business logo and some text. It was a simple custom printing job, but my client had no money to spend.

I went to a printer with whom I had developed a relationship over the years and discussed the job. I also went back into his paper supply room and looked for opened, old (but usable) 80# cover stock in a selection of colors (mostly muted neutrals like grey, off-white, light brown, and a subdued light green). Since these were already trimmed down to 8.5” x 11”, they would fit his smallest press (known as a duplicator), which also had the lowest hourly rate.

I planned to run black-only line art and text, and let the color of the paper provide the color for the job. Along with the consistent type treatment, the similar earth tone colors would provide a uniform overall “look” to the job. Not running any PMS colors would save money as would producing a one-color job on (essentially) free paper that would otherwise have gone to waste.

To save even more money, I laid out the whole job in InDesign to fit on a single 8.5” x 11” page. Along with crop marks to facilitate the post-press trimming process, I laid out a number of hang-tags and a number of business cards side by side on the sheet. I used up all the space I could, placing an extra hang-tag or business card here and there to fill out the press sheet (this is known as imposition, and is usually done by the printer).

I don’t remember exactly how many of each fit on a page: let’s say six business cards and two hang-tags. Since I had collected about 200 scrap 8.5” x 11” sheets with roughly equal amounts of the four tinted colors, I knew that, once trimmed, the single master imposed press layout multiplied by 200 sheets would yield 1,200 business cards and 400 hang tags.

The entire custom printing job probably cost a little over $100.00 for prepress, printing, and finishing for several reasons:

  1. I had collected the scrap press sheets myself that probably would have been thrown out eventually, even though they were perfect for an artist with a certain urban grunge look to her work.
  2. I had produced the imposition for the job (which only took a little math and not much work).
  3. I limited the job to one color on a very small press.
  4. And, most importantly, I had developed a long-standing relationship with the commercial printing vendor, who worked with me to meet the client’s budget.


Variations on the Theme

Here are a few options that are similar, and hopefully equally useful to you.

  1. The printer who did this job also printed my business cards at another time for almost nothing. Why? Because I said he could put them on any 80# white stock with any other job he was already printing–at his convenience, with no deadline.
  2. The approach I took for my business cards can be altered a bit to fit your situation if you are printing a few different jobs. You can lay out all of the jobs on the same press sheet. That way, all jobs can go through prepress and the press at the same time and then only become separate jobs at the trimming stage.

Note: This only works if all jobs can be produced on the same weight of commercial printing paper. If you need business cards and a thin paper brochure, you can’t do this. However, if you’re printing business cards and fold-over photo notecards, you can “gang” them (which is the printer’s name for this operation). You may note that ganging is what I did for my client’s business cards and hang-tags. It’s also a creative way to save money on larger jobs, and process-color work as well.

This is actually how quick printers and online business card shops can charge so little for business cards. If you take one business card to a custom printing vendor, he will do the prepress work and print the job by itself on a press. Therefore, you may pay $200 or more for the business cards. If you go to a printer that does gang runs of business cards, your cards may be on press with many, many other clients’ work. All clients for a particular run can then split the cost of the prepress work, press work, and finishing. In this case, your cards might cost $10 or $20.

One More Hint: the Odd-Lot Paper Market

Sometimes your commercial printing vendor can buy paper through the secondary market, also known as the spot market. Note: This may or may not be a good idea for recurring publications, since your paper may not be available when you need it. However if you are flexible (i.e., willing to accept substitutions), you may want to ask your printer if he has a relationship with an odd-lot vendor. Keep in mind that some of the paper lots also may be of less than optimal quality and runnability. Therefore, your printer may not want to do this. But it is a good way to get a remarkable deal.

One final word on paper from such a source: I’d suggest this only if you are producing a long run of a multi-page publication. In other words, it is only a prudent way to save money if you have a large job that requires a lot of paper.

The Moral of the Story

Think outside the box, and consult your custom printing supplier early and often.

Commercial Printing: High-End Packaging Reflects Artistry and Luxury

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

I’d like to describe the packaging of a straightening iron my fiancee just bought. Perhaps “gush about it” is a better phrase, since this box really impressed me in its design and custom printing work.

This box exemplifies the value manufacturers place on product packaging to sell a luxury item. Depending on the length of the press run, my guess is that the box may have cost several dollars or more to produce each unit. Since it contained a $30.00 professional hair care tool (marked down from over $130.00), the money that went into the packaging was not an inconsiderable portion of the total cost.

The Physical Dimensions of the Box

The box is about 3” high, 12” long, and 6” deep. The hinged box top comes forward, and a flap extending beyond the front of the box snaps shut on the cardboard. Upon close examination, I saw two magnets under the printed paper.

The bottom, back, top, and front are all of one piece, extending slightly beyond an inner box. The cover looks like a case-side produced by a hardcover book printer. Built over thick binder’s board, the cover comprises an outer press sheet with turned edges extending into the inside of the box cover. In much the same way as an endsheet of a case-bound book covers the turned edge paper covering the print book, an additional press sheet covers the inside of the flat iron box cover, extending almost to the turned edges of the exterior paper.

Inside the box is a molded plastic tray for the ceramic flat iron, hair straightening tool. The visible side of the tray is coated in something like a soft-touch UV coating. It ‘s soft and fuzzy, like the skin of a peach.

Finally, there are three, tri-fold brochures in the box, printed on heavy, film-laminated text stock (one in English, one in Spanish, and one in French).

The Custom Printing (Inside the Box)

The interior press sheet, laminated to the cover paper where it folds over the turned edges and extends into the box is printed in a metallic ink in faux zebra stripes. The metallic silver ink stands out against the matte black background. Both inks are very thick.

Initially, I thought this was a sample of custom screen printing. However, using my loupe I saw halftone dots under the black ink. At this point (without knowing for sure), I assumed that the pressman had printed a screen of black and then a second hit of solid black to increase the density of the black ink. Furthermore, I thought he might have done the same with the silver (perhaps a double hit of the ink).

The interior of the innermost box seemed to be a slightly mottled, matte black. I thought it might be flexographic printing.

I also saw where the dull exterior press sheet (maybe 80# text) had been turned over the edge of the box, extending an inch or so into the interior before being glued flat against the binder boards that comprise the box.

The Custom Printing (Outside of the Box)

The outside of the box is matte black (perhaps a double hit of black plus a dull UV coating or varnish). Black metallic foil cut with a die and applied with heat and pressure comprises a text-only design of words related to beauty. The evenness and sheen of the black, hot-stamped words suggest that they are made of foil rather than ink. A similar effect could have been produced with gloss UV coating over a matte black ink, but the intensity of the contrast makes me think this is hot stamping foil.

White, silver, and yellow type and graphics adorn the exterior of the box. The silver is clearly hot stamping foil due to its reflective metallic sheen, but I’m not sure about the yellow. It’s so rich. Maybe it includes some fluorescent ink or some opaque white mixed into the PMS yellow (there are no halftone dots, so it’s not a color build). Or maybe it’s a double hit of yellow. The dull silver zebra stripes are more subdued than the silver type, so I would assume the stripes have been created with ink rather than hot stamping foil.

What Can We Learn from This?

Product packaging is going strong. Even in the midst of a sea change in magazine printing, book printing, and newspaper printing, the sale of product packaging is actually growing.

The flat iron straightening tool was a $130.00 piece of hair stylist’s equipment until it was put in a discount store. The box designer (and the marketing people backing her or him) assumed that a $5.00 (just a stab at the price) box would sell a $130.00 straightening iron. That’s a fair commitment of money as well as design and production time.

My personal belief is that until a material can be invented that will encase products in a screen onto which digitally projected images can be projected, we will have both high-end and low-end product packaging. Tiffany & Co. and other luxury stores will provide shopping bags that are works of art. Even the boxes in the grocery stores containing microwavable dinners will be around for the foreseeable future.


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